God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

October Snowstorm and Fall Foliage

A freak October snowstorm has left me with beautiful scenes of snow-covered fall foliage and no electricity.

So I’m essentially off the grid until NYSEG can figure out how to restore my power.

Snow Foliage

Snow Foliage

Trees on Wires

Trees on Wires

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October 31, 2011 Posted by | meta | | Leave a comment

One Hundred Great Jewish Books by Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman is now available!

One Hundred Great Jewish Books: Three Millennia of Jewish Conversation

One Hundred Great Jewish Books: Three Millennia of Jewish Conversation

I’m thrilled to announce that my father’s latest book, One Hundred Great Jewish Books: Three Millennia of Jewish Conversation, is now available. I may be biased, but it seems to me that if you buy only one book about Judaism this year, it should be this one. So take a look!

Here’s more about the book from his blog:

One Hundred Great Jewish Books: Three Millennia of Jewish Conversation reflects an idea I have been playing with for about a decade now. What is Judaism, if not an identity that is portrayed through a rolling conversation across the centuries! The book is a running record of the conversation as portrayed through every variety of Jewish book: classical texts and medieval responsa, but also modern fiction, short stories, histories, biographies, and even comic books, encyclopedias, and cook books. I read over 200 books to make the selection, but here it is at last: my running guide to the Jewish conversational record.

[Update: There’s a very helpful review by Neal Gendler here.]

October 24, 2011 Posted by | announcements | , | 2 Comments

The Lord isn’t the Shepherd You Think (or: Don’t Mess with the Shepherds)

“The Lord is my shepherd.” This line from Psalm 23 is among the most famous images from the Bible. But as I describe in And God Said, for most people the English words hide the ancient imagery.

Shepherds

To get started, here’s a question: which actor would you cast as a typical shepherd?

When I think of a shepherd, I think of a scrawny man dressed in rags who spends more time with sheep than with people. In term of imagery, I might say, “as lonely as a shepherd,” or “as meager as a shepherd,” or “as ill-dressed as a shepherd.” (If you’re reading this and you are a shepherd, please forgive me!) So in terms of an actor, I think I’d pick Woody Allen. (And Mr. Allen, if you’re reading this, please forgive me; I still love your movies.)

But we see a completely different set of images in the Bible. Shepherds were fierce, regal, and romantic. Back then, one might have said, “as brave as a shepherd,” “as strong as a shepherd,” or “or sexy as a shepherd.”

So even though the Hebrew in Psalm 23 is ro’eh, and even though ro’eh literally means “shepherd,” I don’t think “The Lord is my shepherd” is a very good translation.

Ferocity

For example, Exodus 2:16-20 describes the Midian priest’s seven daughters who are drawing water for their father’s flock when a group of shepherds comes to menace them. Moses proves his amazing capabilities by defending the women against the shepherds. The daughters even say, “[Moses] saved us from the shepherds.” Nowadays, that’s a laughable image. But in the Bible, shepherds were fierce, and Moses demonstrated great worthiness by standing up to them. (In another clash with modern sensibilities, the high priest thanks Moses by giving him a daughter to marry.)

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October 21, 2011 Posted by | translation challenge, translation practice | , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Changing the Son of God for Muslims

An article in World Magazine discusses Wycliffe‘s recent debate about how to translate “Son of God” and “God the Father” into Arabic for Muslim audiences, noting that “in Muslim contexts,” a literal translation “implies that God had sexual relations with Mary” — at least according to some translators.

Therefore, Wycliffe’s translations have at times resorted to alternative wordings, causing more than a little debate.

It seems to me that there are two factual questions here.
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October 12, 2011 Posted by | translation practice, translation theory | , , , , , | 16 Comments

Accuracy versus Personal Preference: a hidden choice in Bible translation

The latest round of reporting on the LifeWay Bible-preference poll addresses the theme of gender-neutral translations, with headlines like, “Study: Bible readers oppose gender-inclusive translations” (from the Associated Baptist Press).

What I find interesting here is that the poll specifically explained that some Greek and Hebrew terms refer to “people in general,” and the question was whether these inclusive terms should be translated as “man” or as “humankind” etc.:

“Bible translators have to make choices regarding gender issues. For example, the original Greek and Hebrew often uses masculine words such as those literally meaning ‘man’ to describe people in general. Some translators think these should be translated literally as ‘man’ while others think they should be translated into gender-inclusive terms such as ‘humankind,’ ‘human being,’ ‘person’ or ‘one.’ Which do you prefer?”

The question was, in my opinion, biased, but not terribly so. Describing the translation of “man” as “literal” but not describing the other terms with any potentially positive attribute seems unbalanced; also, the question suggests that the original can be translated “as `man,'” but “into gender-inclusive terms.” Even so, the question specifically told respondents that the point was to convey “people in general.” And only 12 percent wanted the more accurate choice.

Another way to phrase the poll question, it seems to me, would have been: “Some translators try to tell you what the text of the Bible means while others try to give you a text that you will like. Which do you prefer?” Of course, I have no way of knowing for sure what the results of asking such a question would be, but I find it hard to believe that the same 82 percent that opted for “man” would choose translations that are tailored to personal preference.

So why did so many people prefer the word “man” to express “people in general”?

As with the accuracy versus readability, I think these poll results have more to do with culture than with translation, linguistics, or Bible studies.

October 3, 2011 Posted by | translation theory | , , , , , | 30 Comments